Ontario is home to the world’s largest old-growth red pine forest. Since 1986, Earthroots (first known as the Temagami Wilderness Society) has been fighting for the preservation of rare old growth white and red pine forests in the Temagami region of northern Ontario. And we continue to fight.
Within the Temagami Region, just outside Sudbury stands the 1600-hectare Wolf Lake Forest Reserve, a forest filled with quartzite cliffs, shimmering waters, and old-growth red pine trees, some of which are hundreds of years old. This area was slated for protection back in the early 2000s by the Ontario government, but today remains at risk of exploitation and destruction due to faulty commitments by governments and vague environmental laws.
Wolf Lake Forest Reserve is an ecological gem of Ontario and needs to be protected. Greater Sudbury has historically put many pressures on the environment from acid rain in the 1960s that wiped life from the lakes and rivers, to mineral and lumber extraction that cleared trees and polluted soils, but the region is finally in the state of recovery. Old-growth forests like Wolf Lake have helped the environment recover by improving soil quality with their deep roots removing pollutants and nutrients from the ground. Time has allowed the forest to work so well that fish like lake trout and smallmouth bass have returned to the waterways, bringing in valuable food for other wildlife like bears, wolves, foxes, and eagles.
Old-growth stands of red pine also help slow the spread of wildfires. With their tall trunks and high branches, they are able to survive the flames of wildfires and re-seed the ground when the fire has passed. The Wolf Lake old-growth red pine forest is notably one of the few red pines forests that is regenerating, re-seeding and growing in North America. With a mix of young and old trees, Wolf Lake is helping fight climate change through carbon storage in its deep roots and limiting the destruction of wildfires that are becoming more common with increased droughts and intense hot summers.
So why hasn’t the world’s largest old-growth red pine forest been protected yet? In the early 2000s the Ontario government slated the forest reserve as a “park in waiting” that would come to be when old mining and mineral exploration leases expired on the land. In 2020 however, the Ontario government released a work permit which allowed for a new mining company to come into Wolf Lake and explore mining possibilities. This was done without public consultation and against a strong public will to have this area protected. Earthroots, in collaboration with the local Save Wolf Lake Coalition, is pushing our governments to make good on these lapsed promises of protection. Wolf Lake is a snapshot of what the region has looked like for millennia and is only now beginning to return to its glory. Now is the time to integrate these 1600 hectares of natural beauty into provincial or federal protected lands and waters objectives. Red forest used to span from Ontario to the east coast, but only 1.2% of the red pine tree’s original range exists today, so this saving Wolf Lake only makes sense for a country to protect its environment and biodiversity. It is not the time to put some of northern Ontario's last old-growth forests at risk.